Recently, Thoth was asked for a Space Marines conversion. He developed his version from the Fantasy Flight Games DeathWatch book into d20, going back and using a baseline from the original Dark Heresy books. Unfortunately, I don’t have them and can’t reference the information. Also, his version is way better built and contains more information than I could possibly bring to the table. But I never let a total lack of basic competence prevent me from writing.
And I do happen to have the tabletop miniatures wargame rules.
The creation of a Space Marine involves a lot of surgeries, mental and physical training, and some luck. You need to develop a load of artificially-created organs, stick them in a young teenage boy, and subject them to maximum stress on mind and body. Then there’s the endless combat training. If all goes well, then by the end you’ve got a spiffy new SPESS MEREEN!
So what goes into this amazing super-technology process? First, they recruit candidates around the age of 15 or younger who have good, non-freaky-mutant genes. Most are already hardened fighters: either they came from special training on a civilized world or were recruited from barely-sane gang members or barbarian warriors or something. Then they start training and lots of surgeries. While there’s all kinds of odd bits here, most of it can be boiled down to two main points.
(1) Is Strong.
(2) Is Tough.
Stat-wise, Space Marines are extra-tough and extra-strong dudes with lots o’ training, but are not otherwise unusual. They come off as fairly comparable to other capable-but-not-elite soldiers. (Well, those not intended to be used as cannon fodder, anyway.) Which is the point, one supposes. For all the Space Marines supposedly being legendary superwarriors, they are ultimately Dudes in Armor. They don’t compare especially well or badly to elite troops from other factions.
The basic statline for a Space Marine differs from “human soldier” in relatively few ways. Space Marines have Weapon Skill, Ballistic Skill, Strength, Toughness, and Initiative all at 4. They get one wound and one attack. Normal humans, at least if not utterly incompetent, would have 3’s instead of 4’s. (We’ll leave Leadership aside, since it doesn’t really correspond to anything in D20). That may sound like a 33% increase – but it’s not. Due to the way the system works, it’s actually a 16% increase. Here’s why:
Direct comparisons raise some issues. The basic game rates a normal human at Strength and Toughness 3; a Space Marine has both at 4. You could call that 33% increase. In game terms, however, it’s closer to a 16% improvement due to the way the damage mechanic works (it’s usually a 1-chance-in-6 improvement). Since Strength mostly compares directly across in the same manner, it’s also a 16% improvement over normal humans. That is… not much. 16% of the average attribute score of 10 rounds off to… 2 attribute points, or a +1 bonus.
Well, that’s not terribly impressive. However, it actually makes a great deal of sense when you consider how the systems work. Warhammer reserves skills and great attributes for legendary characters, or at least elites. Space Marines are only troops, even if they are tough troops. The Weapons Skill and Ballistic Skill are within the possible achievement for humans even without super technology. Meanwhile Imperial Assassins are actually superior to Space Marines in almost every possible way without appearing inhuman, based on using even more advanced technologies and training.
But we can also interpret the stat changes more loosely. A normal human Fighter has 10 hp without any bonuses. In order to increase this by 16%, we’d need a +1.6 bonus. Round that off, and it’s a +2 bonus – or a 4 attribute points. That gives us Constitution, and we can stretch that to cover Strength as well. So we’ve begun by begin by giving our SPESS MEREENS(!) a sizable bonus to Strength and Constitution scores. This will be a racial template, and it’s gonna be expensive.
Improved Self Development: Strength +4 (48 CP)
Improved Self Development: Constitution +4 (48 CP)
That’s 96 points, but halved for being in a racial template, and actually would make a decent template just on its own. Not fancy, but it gets the job done. But Space Marines have an entire array of weird organs, some of which have unusual effects. I had to pull this list off a wiki, as I couldn’t actually locate it in the official sourcebooks. It’s probably in one of them somewhere but I don’t care enough to search for it.
The actual bits that go into a Space Marine varies from edition to edition and go from “ridiculous array of incredible abilities” to “small array of moderately useful stuff”. DeathWatch picks every single ability ever listed and lists some kind of bonus; almost all of it is completely useless in any reasonable context – and most unreasonable ones, too. Half the abilities have little-or-no use. Even the other half don’t really make Space Marines unstoppable. Both in the system and in the fluff they can be taken out by more-or-less normal humans who are well-armed, very well trained, or simply in a better position to fight. However, we can pull from the general list of organs mentioned regularly.
Secondary Heart (The Maintainer)
*So, Marines get two hearts. And one of them is super-special awesome. However, none of this really matters as it just means you are strong and tough, which we covered.
Ossmodula (The Ironheart)
*Marines also have really tough bones. And really hard bones. And lots of bone in strange places. This is covered under “tough”.
Biscopea (The Forge of Strength)
*Marines don’t just have lots of bone, they get an entire organ to make them grow lots of muscle. Covered under the whole “strong” thingymajig.
Haemastamen (The Blood Maker)
*This one is supposed to supercharge the blood. However, this is presumably necessary to keep the marine functioning. They’re really big and heavy, need a special diet, and undoubtedly need different circulation to function.
Larraman’s Organ (The Healer)
*This one is supposed to limit damage so the marines can function more easily when wounded and heal more rapidly.
We have various ways to represent this, but the simplest is Damage Reduction. Even a small amount of it would seem very impressive if it’s not common, it makes sense, and it easily coves the effects listed. By reducing the amount of damage a character takes, it means they can eat more damage to the face and keep going, and will recover from an equal wound much faster than a normal human – they literally didn’t take as much final damage. DR 3/-, 6 CP
Catalepsean Node (The Unsleeping)
*Space Marines evidently don’t have to sleep that much. We don’t have extensive D20 rules for going without sleep, and for good reason. It’s almost never important, and characters could easily use magic, items, and abilities to deal with it. What information we do have suggests that even things like forced marches hardly phase even ordinary human beings. They may get penalties, but it’s manageable, people recover quickly, and don’t actually have an upper limit in the rules.
Immunity to Fatigue Penalties. Common/Minor/Minor. 4 CP. This will allow the character to ignore up penalties up to 4 due to fatigue or exhaustion. Combine that with high Constitution score and it fits nicely.
Preomnor (The Neutraliser)
*Marines can apparently eat just about anything, and can ignore most ingested toxins. We have a few ways to manage this. I prefer Grant of Aid since it’s fairly flexible and you can use it several times a day.
Grant of Aid: Specialized only to recover attribute points. 3 CP
Omophagea (The Remembrancer)
*The hell? Marines can eat stuff and gain knowledge from it. Or not. There’s no clear explanation of how this works or what knowledge they might gain. There’s no real way to use this practically, because you can’t predict what you might get.
Level 0 Sor/Wizard
By eating part of a creature, the character may gain a skill bonus or other knowledge worth 3 CP. The gain is not guaranteed to occur and fades in one day.
Inherent Spell: Specialized for 1 use per day, 3 CP
Multi-lung (The Imbiber)
*Space Marines have some resistance to low-oxygen environments and can resist inhaled poisons somewhat. Note that this won’t help .
Resist: Low-Oxygen and Inhaled Toxins: +4 Save Bonus. 6 CP
Occulobe (The Eye of Vengeance)
*Supposedly, Marines have super eyesight and low-light vision. Except they don’t actually have this in the game. Aside from being better shots than the average dude, but not especially good by the standards of other professionals in the game. No effect means no cost.
Lyman’s Ear (The Sentinel)
*So, this little thing prevent dizziness, motion sickness, and supposedly defends against sonic attacks. However, characters don’t face these unless it’s induced by magic or an ability, and Space Marines don’t get any special resistance to that. In fact, they don’t even have special resistance to the few actual sonic attacks listed in the game. No effect means no cost.
Sus-an Membrane (The Hibernator)
*This oddity allows a very wounded marine to sleep it off in a sort of regenerative trance. This actually doesn’t have a game effect as such, since by definition it only takes effect when you’re an inch away from dead.
This is a weaker version of Returning. Normally, basic Returning requires some an easy way for enemies to stop you. Destroying the body is very common. However, the Marines here may not survive without high-tech medical care and can’t come back on their own at all. 4 CP for Corrupted Returning.
*Radiation and resistance to sunburn doesn’t show up very often in games. If it were necessary, it’s easily covered by the Grant of Aid power listed under Preomnor.
Oolitic Kidney (The Purifier)
*Falling unconscious in a deadly battle because someone used some kind of poison or toxin or something is not actually a bonus. To the extent it’s important, the Grant of Aid under the Preomnor listing handles it.
Neuroglottis (The Devourer)
*This implant represents an issue. It covers an awfully large range of stuff, but it’s not clear just how effective it is. In short, it’s supposed to allow Space Marines to analyze stuff they taste or smell, along with some general improvements that give them tracking abilities and so forth. Again none of this has any effect in tabletop and isn’t necessary in a soldier. However, we can also represent it an odd Immunity.
Immunity: Needing equipment to analyze airborne or tasted substances. Note that you will need relevant skills to make any kind of useful deduction from this. Alchemy (or Chemistry in Sci-Fi games), Knowledge: Nature, or Wilderness Lore would be useful. Common/Minor/Minor, 4 CP
Mucranoid (The Weaver)
*You can hibernate if you drink some weird potion. There’s really no use for us in the game whatsoever, and if it became necessary, you coud do the same with magical effects. Also, in what universe do people have their already nigh-immortal soldiers take years-long naps, and why? No game effect means no cost – if the GM wants your team to go into stasis for reason, there’s a number of ways already built into the setting. All of these are pretty well superior as well.
Betcher’s Gland (The Poison Bite)
*…Yeah. Space Marines can spit poison. Or acid. It’s actually somewhat confused about that.
Given the futility of this in a universe where laser weaponry is considered a low-tech, reliable workhorse solution, and where Marines all carry great big knives anyhow, we’ll make this an Inherent Spell. That gives easily-used acid damage, doesn’t cost many points, and is easily reusable.
Level 0 Sor/Wizard
Deals 1d4 Acid damage with a 10′ range as a ranged touch attack.
Inherent Spell: Acid Spit, Specialized for Cantrip Only, 3 CP
Progenoid Glands (The Gene-Seeds)
*Hahaha yeah no. This is silly even by the standards of the setting – which is saying something. It’s not a character power as such.
The Black Carapace (Interface)
*This is a problem, of sorts. Space Marines need this to interface with their armor, so that it becomes an extension of the body. Nobody else does. In fact, even the existing cybernetic implants should let you do the same thing if it were even needed. There are multiple canon examples of people doing just that, such as the Imperial Knights and some of the less-pleasant factions’ giant robot killing machines. Also all the titans work this way, and even the Space Marines themselves use a variant for the Dreadnought chassis.
Putting it all together:
*Improved Self Development: Strength +4 (24 CP)
*Improved Self Development: Constitution +4 (24 CP)
*DR 3/- (6 CP)
*Immunity to Fatigue Penalties. Common/Minor/Minor (4 CP)
*Inherent Spell: Devouring Gain 1/day. 3 CP]]
*Resist: Low-Oxygen and Inhaled Toxins: +4 Save Bonus (6 CP)
*Returning: If not destroyed and given major medical care (4 CP)
*Immunity: Needing equipment to analyze. Common/Minor/Minor. (4 CP)
*Inherent spell: Acid Spit 4/day (3 CP)
That comes to 73 CP, and falls into the +2 ECL range. Fortunately, we can Corrupt this down to +1 ECL with a few limitations.
*Space Marines are huge targets. They obviously look abnormal and attract attention except in the most exotic settings. Enemies often pull out big attacks to use on them.
*It’s almost impossible for them to use disguises. Sure, just try to disguise yourself as a “common merchant” when you’re seven-foot-six and weigh eight hundred pounds.
*For the same reason, they’re harder to conceal. Enemies have a +4 bonus to notice you from Spot, Search, and the like.
*Space Marines normally have some form of Duties built-in and may not take this disadvantage during character creation. Evil versions often have duties to their dark overlords and/or insanity instead.
Ultimately, it’s a playable template, but filled with a lot of cruft and oddities that simply aren’t necessary. And that’s pretty close to the explanation of the Space Marines from Games Workshop as well, soooooo… job well done?